Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

The importance of social media during severe weather is highlighted by a recent Facebook Page suspension.

James Spann, a popular meteorologist in Alabama, had his 90,000+ “Liked” Facebook page suspended in early June. While the suspension was reversed twelve hours later, this situations points to the importance of social media to inform the public about severe weather. It also shows the risks that come with relying on a social network when you don’t “own” your account.

Details of the Facebook account suspension

James Spann was interviewed by Leo Laporte for the This Week in Google (TWIG) show (all the quotes included here come from that interview).  James uses his popular Facebook page to inform people in Alabama about everyday weather but also severe storm issues. During the first weekend in June he went to post information on his Facebook page; he got a message that his account was disabled.

He told Laprorte that, “it’s horrifying because that platform is a very critical way of diseminating information. Understand, when you have an F4, F5 tornado on the ground, this is serious business. This is life threatening.”

Spann contact Facebook via email and got a message back a message indicating that he need to provide a copy of his driver’s license. He sent a scanned version of it back with all his personal information blacked out. His page, “came back magically mid-morning Sunday. It was out for about 12 hours”.

Jeff Jarvis one of the co-hosts of This Week In Google emailed the head of PR for Facebook’s Washington office. Jarvis indicated that, “Facebook can confirm this was an error. They apologize for any inconvenience”.

Social Media and Sever Weather

Southern severe weather at its worst. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

While Facebook might be an important part of your businesses overall strategy, cases like this one point to how Facebook updates can literally be “life or death” important when it comes to something like severe weather and tornados. While individuals should have alternative ways to access this information (TV, radio, SMS), people have come to rely on social media, like Facebook, to keep them informed.

Here is Kansas, many of us Twitter users rely on the hashtag #KSstorms to keep updated on the latest severe weather. As someone whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, I wish that Facebook or Twitter had been available at that time, not only to inform people of the risk, but also to help provide better communication during and after the storm.

“Social media is crucial to what we do”, said James Spann on TWIG. He views it as a “two way street”. Not only can he inform the social media audience about severe weather, but the audidence also is helping crowdsource information that can then be shared.

In referencing the tornados of 2011, Spann makes clear that social media saved lives.

Facebook and Twitter usage was critical… I will tell you right now there are people who are walking around in Tuscaloosa Alabama … because these people got the tornado warning via Facebook or Twitter.

You don’t own your Facebook page

Spanns case points out the risk that come with Facebook pages. His page didn’t have any controversial content or even discuss politics; it was strictly weather. He indicated that there was no email to let him know when his page came back, nor was there any type of explination as to why it was removed.

Leo Laporte made an excellent point which is worth remembering:

These are private companies. This in not broadcasting that is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. They can do what they want.

If your Facebook account is disabled

If your personal account is suspended, go this personal profile disabled page to submit the issue to Facebook so they can look into it.

I was unable to find an official Facebook explanation of how to get a page re-enabled. Hopefully that is because page suspensions are rarely done. If you have experience with this situation or have advice, please add it to the comments.

James Spann agreed to let me send him some questions, but he didn’t end up having time to respond. My guess is he was busy reporting on the serious weather that the South has been dealing with this month.